Notes from a Byzantine-Rite Calvinist

31 March 2006

Yet another red letter day

Today marks the first anniversary of the last post on the winsome Mr. Brian Dijkema's exceedingly sporadic blog.

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Ignatieff in the race

We've all seen it coming: Ignatieff all but declares leadership bid. Here is his speech, Canada and the World, delivered yesterday at the University of Ottawa. In light of Michael Ignatieff's unofficial bid for the leadership of the Liberal Party, this seems a good time to republish immediately below a column I wrote for Christian Courier, in the issue dated 23 January, the very day of the federal election:

Although at one point in his life the Greek philosopher Plato thought that philosophers should become kings, in the real world few intellectuals gravitate towards the life of practical politics. To be sure, during his tenure as prime minister, Pierre Trudeau was often called a philosopher-king – a label as often as not used in disparaging fashion. Yet few political leaders come to their offices from the academy. Thus I was somewhat surprised to hear that Prof. Michael Ignatieff would be standing in today’s election for the Liberals in Toronto’s Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding, with his eye eventually on Paul Martin’s job.

Ignatieff was born into an old Russian aristocratic family, which fled the Bolshevik Revolution and settled in Canada. Michael’s father George (1913-1989) was a respected diplomat, Chancellor of the University of Toronto and recipient of the Order of Canada. Michael’s maternal cousin was the late George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), whose conservative vision of Canadian nationhood was deeply antipathetic to the liberal individualism Michael has come to champion. Much of his life has been spent in Britain and the United States, and he most recently taught human rights at Harvard.

Now he has returned to take up a position at the University of Toronto and has seized the opportunity presented by the defeat of Martin’s government to make a bid for a seat in the Commons. What sort of political leader would he be?

While I found much to like in his 1984 book, The Needs of Strangers, in which he qualified his liberal individualism with an appreciation for community, his more recent works show him to have made a potentially troubling change in direction. The turning point seems to have been his work on the television series and companion volume, both titled Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism. His recognition of the dangers of nationalism appears to have made him wary of the claims of community in general.

Thus in his Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Ignatieff argues that “Rights are meaningful only if they confer entitlements and immunities on individuals; they are worth having only if they can be enforced against institutions like the family, the state, and the church.” Furthermore, in The Rights Revolution, presented as the 2000 CBC Massey Lectures, he asserts that communities have value only insofar as they help individuals to achieve their own goals and aspirations.

So what happens if the claims of individual and community come into conflict? What if, say, a church institution disciplines one of its members for being unfaithful to her husband or one of its clergy for preaching heresy from the pulpit? What if the Salvation Army “discriminates” against an otherwise qualified unbelieving prospective employee and hires a confessing Christian more obviously agreeing with the organization’s vision? Where does justice lie in these potential disputes?

For Ignatieff the answer is simple: “Group rights – to language, culture, religious expression, and land – are valuable to the degree that they enhance the freedom of individuals. This suggests that when group rights and individual rights conflict, individual rights should prevail.” Period.

While Ignatieff manifests a proper concern for individual liberties, it would be difficult to imagine an approach less conducive to the doing of justice to the full complexity of human social life in God's world. Rather than hearing and weighing carefully the conflicting claims in the political arena, Ignatieff has already made up his mind before the claims have even been made. Someone less charitable than I might well see fit to label this prejudice.

Prime Minister Ignatieff? We’ll pass on that, thank you.

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30 March 2006

Many happy returns of the day

Birthday greetings are due to my good friend Eric Hogeterp of Ottawa. May God bless him and his family today and always. Incidentally, Eric shares his birthday with a certain obscure Upper Canadian professor of politics who has known him for just short of 18 years.

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29 March 2006

Seasonal music

On the first nice spring day I love to listen to Maurice Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, a personal favourite. I've observed this ritual virtually every year since 1973, when I was in my final year of high school, and I did so again today. This is one of two piano concertos created by the great French composer (1875-1937), the other being the single-movement Concerto for the Left Hand. Although they were written virtually simultaneously in 1929-31, their respective moods could hardly be more contrasting. Given that it was written for Paul Wittgenstein (philosopher Ludwig's brother), who had lost his right arm in the Great War, the Left Hand Concerto is sombre and dramatic.

By contrast, the G Major Concerto is lively and even daring. The first movement, Allegramente, opens with what sounds like the crack of a whip and the release of horses onto a parade ground. The middle movement, Adagio assai, is quiet and reflective, bearing some resemblance to Erik Satie's Gymnopédies. The final movement, Presto, is frenetic in its pace, with obvious jazz influence. This time the horses appear to be in a race, slowing not in the least even to show off for the crowds, as they did in the first movement.

The G Major Concerto is a wonderful piece richly deserving repeated listenings — and not only in spring.

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An 'oily' conservative?

What is a "crunchy" conservative? Whatever it is, it seems to have warranted someone writing a book, as well as the creation of at least two blogs, devoted to it. If I were a conservative — which I'm not — I suppose I would be an olive oil and halloumi conservative.

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27 March 2006

Canada's (third-)world-class postal system

Sending a package from Chicago to Hamilton via Priority Mail seems to be the kiss of death, judging from Canada Post's performance. Today I finally received something sent in this way from the Windy City on tuesday, 14 March — two weeks ago tomorrow! Imagine if it had been sent by conventional mail. It might have been months. This is not the first time either. If I lodge a complaint from my end, I am told that only the sender can do this. But if the sender does so, the US Postal Service employee tells him it will do no good. The complaint will drop into an abyss on this side of the border and never see the light of day. It seems I'm not the only one to experience frustrations with Canada Post. This country deserves better.

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Maltese tribute to unborn

Here's an uplifting report on a beautiful spring morning: Malta President unveils National Pro-Life monument. It's difficult to imagine this taking place here in Canada. Good for Malta.

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26 March 2006

Religious freedom and Islam

Western pressure has apparently succeeded in persuading Afghanistan to free Abdul Rahman, who had been under a death sentence for converting to Christianity. But what of future such converts? Will religious freedom take hold in that troubled country or is the very notion incompatible with Islam? Here is one analysis of the situation: Facing down a culture where they talk like crazies. As usual, Mark Steyn does not mince words, saying openly what others are thinking.

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25 March 2006

Divorce at last?

After being together for 45 years, the Canadian Auto Workers and the New Democratic Party are ending their partnership. This follows the latter's shattering discovery that the former was exchanging flirtatious glances with Canada's natural governing party. Perhaps a marriage counsellor is in order.

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Peacemakers' rescue: aftermath

There is perhaps some irony in the three peacemakers having been liberated by soldiers fighting a war that they oppose. Are they ungrateful to their rescuers? Their sponsoring organization says no.

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And when she's not critiquing my wardrobe. . .

Dragon and 'dragontologist'
Source: Theresa Koyzis


Daddy: What is it?

Theresa: A dragon.

Daddy: And who is that with the dragon?

Theresa: A dragontologist.

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Russia aided Saddam?

If the following story is true, it does not bode well for Russian-American relations, including US support for fighting terrorism on Russian soil: Russians Told Iraqi Regime of U.S. Troop Movements. Moscow is denying the charges.

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24 March 2006

Tim's conquers North America

Quick, call your broker — and then order a double-double: Tim Hortons shares begin trading with big gains.

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Misnomer?

Why is this contraption I'm typing on known as a computer? I do very little computing on it, except for occasionally pulling up the calculator listed under accessories. Perhaps it's time for a global campaign to rename it a communicator, which seems to be a more accurate description of its primary use for most people.

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Catholic Democrats' statement flawed

Fr. Thomas Williams does not think much of the Statement of Principles By Fifty-Five Catholic Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although it claims to express a commitment to the dignity of life and the belief that government has a moral purpose, Fr. Williams finds it to be weak in defending the unborn. According the statement's authors, "In all these issues, we seek the Church's guidance and assistance but believe also in the primacy of conscience."

A comment and a question are in order. First, the primacy of conscience sounds more Quaker than Catholic to me. I doubt that the signatories ran this by their bishops to see whether it passed doctrinal muster. Second, to whom is this statement addressed and why? Catholic voters? Fellow members of Congress? The Catholic Church? Are they presuming to set themselves up as an alternative magisterium? Just curious.

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Princeton Seminary opening

Now that Max Stackhouse is retiring as the de Vries Professor of Reformed Theology and Public Life at Princeton Seminary, the position is now being advertised. Off hand, while I can immediately call to mind dozens of neocalvinist scholars in the social sciences, humanities and even the natural sciences, I am hard pressed to think of many neocalvinist theologians who would appropriately fill such a vacancy. Have we been neglecting this discipline?

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23 March 2006

Miraculous deliverance

Thank God for answering the prayers of so many: Canadian hostages in Iraq rescued.

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22 March 2006

Visions and Illusions in Illinois

Scroll down the webpage of this young undergraduate and see which book he is currently reading. My guess is that David Van Heemst is assigning it to his students at Olivet Nazarene University south of Chicago.

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Perhaps Theresa was right

Daddy's dreaded vest

Daddy's dreaded vest

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Defending 'justice' in Afghanistan?

Could Canadian and American troops really be defending a régime in which this could happen: Christian convert faces execution in Afghanistan? Now prosecutors think Abdul Rahman must be mad: "He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person." Scripture concurs: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (I Corinthians 1:18).

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20 March 2006

The last Soviet stronghold

What? We are shocked! shocked! that anyone would dare question the fairness of yesterday's presidential election in Belarus.


Source: Pravda

Alexander Lukashenko

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Cyclone Larry

If you're visiting Australia, here's a good reason to be in Victoria or New South Wales rather than Queensland.

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From my severest fashion critic

To Dad: Do not wear that vest again
Source: Theresa Koyzis

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19 March 2006

Domain change

Some readers may have noticed from the sidebar that Redeemer University College has changed its domain name from redeemer{dot}on{dot}ca to the simpler redeemer{dot}ca. This is effective immediately and impacts both the web address and email addresses. However, for the time being the earlier address will continue to take one to the right place.

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Demography and 'patriarchy'

My good friend Richard Greydanus draws our attention to Phillip Longman's Foreign Policy article, The Return of Patriarchy. Longman argues that, in a society which spurns patriarchy, the birthrate inevitably declines. On the other hand, those conservative subcultures affirming patriarchy continue to have children and over the long term will overtake the ostensibly progressive people who are procreating at below replacement level. Greydanus is critical of this thesis, arguing that Longman has made population stability a golden calf. I doubt that's an entirely justified critique, and I suspect that the term patriarchy is posing something of an obstacle to a fair reading of Longman.

Jennifer Roback Morse makes an argument similar to Longman's but avoids this hot-button word. Her focus is the failure of the European welfare state, which, despite providing "economic subsidies to child-bearing", has been unsuccessful in pushing up the birthrate because it is "attempting to replace the father." If one focusses, not on patriarchy with its connotations of male domination, but on the crucial role of fathers in society, then Longman's thesis might be more easily heard.

While the welfare state need not be intrinsically anti-family, most of the existing models are indeed predicated on the assumption that individuals should be able to make choices in a variety of settings irrespective of familial and marital obligations. This corresponds to what I have elsewhere called the choice-enhancement state, the fifth stage in the historic development of liberalism. While the socialist welfare state is communitarian in focus, undertaking to protect the working class, as a class, from the abuses of the market, the late liberal welfare state tries to cushion individuals, irrespective of their lifestyle choices, from their destructive consequences. Thus the state is free to redefine even the most central of institutions, such as marriage and family, because it is naïvely assumed that the largesse of the welfare state will compensate for the inevitable social fallout of such redefinitions.

Yet in subverting family and marriage, the late liberal welfare state appears to be eroding its own undergirding foundations. Demographic collapse is one consequence of this, and a notable one at that. Others have noted the decline south of the border in support for abortion on demand, as the pro-choice segment of the citizenry steadily declines due to a failure to bring forth a generation to which to bequeath the pro-choice vision. One need hardly be guilty of making an idol of population stability for merely pointing out that a healthy civilization depends upon the existence of sufficient numbers of people to keep it going.

Although I am not a nostalgist for a premodern past, I sometimes wonder whether western societies went wrong in leaving marriage and family up to the devices of individuals. I myself am only two generations removed from arranged marriage. While I do not favour bringing this back, it is far from evident that the love match is a better basis for a healthy marriage. Over the long term can a civilization survive that leaves an institution so crucial to its perpetuation to the vagaries of individuals falling in and out of love? Does marriage become just one more lifestyle choice amongst others? And if so, does childbearing take on a similar status?

Perhaps it's time for Christians in particular to be more proactive in encouraging their young people to marry and in readying them for the responsibilities of marriage. Might a christian university such as Redeemer have a role to play in this? What about churches? In the past I might have played down such a possibility, but now I'm not so sure.

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15 March 2006

Alumni news

I am pleased to announce that three alumni of Redeemer's political science programme have recently taken on new employment opportunities.

Last week Eric T. Hogeterp (graduated 1993), who is a faithful reader of this blog, assumed the position of Special Assistant: Policy for the Honourable Maxime Bernier, Member of Parliament for Beauce (Québec) and Minister of Industry in the new Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In September Dr. Paul A. Brink (1993) will become Associate Professor of Political Studies at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts. I myself have a number of personal connections with Gordon, as two sisters, a brother-in-law, a niece and a nephew-in-law all graduated from there. Moreover, my first trip to Europe back in 1975 was with Gordon's European Seminar. It was on the plane that summer between Amsterdam and Boston that I first met Dr. William A. Harper, who was teaching political studies at Gordon. Brink will be replacing Harper on his retirement. One more connection: James W. Skillen, of the Center for Public Justice, taught at Gordon in the late 1970s before moving to Dordt College and eventually to the Center.

Finally, Derek Miedema (1995), formerly pastor of the Christian Reformed Church in Dresden, Ontario, has taken a position as Researcher at the Centre for Faith and Public Life with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Congratulations and may God bless them as they serve in their new positions.

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13 March 2006

The Crown and the constitution

The Queen is in Australia this week where, among other things, she will open the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Coincidentally, I have been reading Edward McWhinney's The Governor General and the Prime Ministers: The Making and Unmaking of Governments. Now that Canada is in a second minority government situation in nearly as many years, McWhinney's book is especially timely. His treatments of the King-Byng constitutional crisis of 1926, the Whitlam Dismissal of 1975, the defeat of Joe Clark's government in 1979 and other events of constitutional import are readable and informative. (On the other hand, the book appears to have been rushed into print. There are errors in his account, most notably in his treatment of the changes of government in Ontario between 1985 and 1990.)

Because I came of age in the US at precisely the moment when a presidency had become incapacitated, I can appreciate the value of a division of labour between head of state and head of government characteristic of many polities, including Canada. At the same time, I do tend to wonder whether the governor general's office here constitutes a sufficient check on the vast powers of the prime minister. It would not be a bad thing to see a governor general act somewhat more resolutely to keep the PM in line. However, as long as she or he is effectively appointed by the PM himself, this is not likely to occur.

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Loving ordinately

Speaking of John Buchan, Gideon Strauss is trying to decide whether he agrees with one of the Scottish author's characters, Janet Raden, when she says, "... all wisdom consists in caring immensely for the few right things and not caring a straw about the rest." I find it surprising that someone who delights in drawing up interminable lists of things loved would have difficulty seeing the flaw in this statement. Here's Augustine on the subject:

When the miser prefers his gold to justice, it is through no fault of the gold, but of the man; and so with every created thing. For though it be good, it may be loved with an evil as well as with a good love: it is loved rightly when it is loved ordinately; evilly, when inordinately. It is this which some one has briefly said in these verses in praise of the Creator: "These are Thine, they are good, because Thou art good who didst create them. There is in them nothing of ours, unless the sin we commit when we forget the order of things, and instead of Thee love that which Thou hast made."

But if the Creator is truly loved, that is, if He Himself is loved and not another thing in His stead, He cannot be evilly loved; for love itself is to be ordinately loved, because we do well to love that which, when we love it, makes us live well and virtuously. So that it seems to me that it is a brief but true definition of virtue to say, it is the order of love. . . .

Unless I am misreading it, it seems to me that the Buchan quote is a recipe for idolatry, which consists in esteeming a very few things inordinately at the expense of everything else. This is sure to make for an imbalanced life.

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12 March 2006

I wonder. . .

. . . whether James W. Skillen and Ed Grootenboer were responsible for choosing the title of their respective books. And, if so, did they compare notes first?

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Liberties threatened

Constitutional guarantees are only as good as the determination of political leaders to honour them. Unfortunately, despite the First Amendment's claim to protect religious freedom in the United States, such freedom is nevertheless being attenuated in two New England states.

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Roe v. Wade plus 33

Amherst College Professor Hadley Arkes sets out a plausible scenario whereby the US Supreme Court's controversial 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade, might suffer death by a thousand qualifications without being explicitly overturned.

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11 March 2006

Nassif on Orthodoxy

Bradley Nassif teaches theology at North Park University in Chicago. Amongst his more scholarly writings, this popular article stands out as a gem: Reclaiming the Gospel. Here's Nassif:

I am convinced that the Orthodox Church preserves the fullness of God's truth, but I am equally persuaded that we have not made that truth meaningful and accessible to our own Church members. The most urgent need in the Orthodox world today is the need for an aggressive "internal mission" of (re)converting our people to Jesus Christ. The gospel of Christ and our life in Him need to be reclaimed as the very centerpiece of Church life.

This is enough to warm the heart of even a Byzantine-rite Calvinist. It confirms my longstanding global impression that, amongst the various Orthodox jurisdictions in North America, the Antiochian Orthodox are the best of the lot. Worthy of note is Nassif's repudiation of the dark influence of nationalism — something which sadly afflicts the Greeks and Russians and contributed to the partition of Cyprus, among other things.

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08 March 2006

Famagusta

Someone has posted video footage of a visit last year to Famagusta, Cyprus, including the old walled city, which is still inhabited, and the Varosia neighbourhood to the south, which is a ghost town. Extraordinary.

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06 March 2006

Yum, good

I sometimes wonder whether, some four decades ago, I might have been the only boy in North America to consider lima beans, black-eyed peas and spinach turnovers comfort food. I think it's entirely possible.

spinach turnovers
Spinach turnovers

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We have a winner

The only real reason to pay attention to the Academy Awards: 'Wallace & Gromit' wins Best Animation Oscar.

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05 March 2006

Speaking of . . .

. . . Notre Dame, a well-known evangelical university is losing its star professor to a better-known Catholic university in northern Indiana: Mark Noll Leaving Wheaton for Notre Dame. He will be a tough act to follow. But Wheaton's loss is . . . well, you complete the sentence.

And speaking of Wheaton College, on friday Redeemer was privileged to host Dr. Vincent Bacote, an evangelical convert to the neocalvinist vision of Abraham Kuyper. He is a lively speaker and we were pleased to have him among us for a time. I have recently acquired a copy of his book, The Spirit In Public Theology: Appropriating The Legacy Of Abraham Kuyper, and look forward to reading it.

And finally, speaking of conversions to neocalvinism, what could have prompted someone ordained to the ministry of the most liberal protestant denomination in the US to take an interest in Kuyper's vision of cultural engagement — and to bring that vision to a known bastion of Barthianism at that? Read about his pilgrimage here: On Being Reformed: An Interview with Max Stackhouse.

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03 March 2006

Prophetic Politics Goes to Washington?

Timothy Sherratt's Capital Commentary, dated 6 March, is excellent and worth reproducing in full:

When Jim Wallis speaks at Christian colleges, as he did at Gordon College last week, his message is clear and concise: evangelical Christians engage in selective moral crusades, he says. On life and sexuality issues, they take strong orthodox stances. Then Wallis pauses, looks out at his evangelical audience, and declares that these are indeed serious moral issues. But why, he protests, do Evangelicals overlook the Bible's 2,000 references to the poor and fail to mount moral campaigns to end poverty?

Wallis's model for Christian action is the Civil Rights Movement. His heroes are prominent private citizens, not public officials. This is a formula that resonates with American culture.

To his credit, Wallis wants Christians to embrace a comprehensive social ethic. He does not seek to exchange conservative moral issues for liberal moral issues. The Christian ethic he advocates penetrates the boardroom and the budget, as well as the bedroom.

As the 2006 midterm elections loom, could evangelical politics achieve the synthesis Wallis seeks, marrying traditional positions on personal moral questions to moral commitments to end poverty?

In class last week, a student remarked, light dawning and penny dropping, how evangelical the left-wing Wallis is. What did he mean? I asked. Well, he went on, Wallis does not show much patience with the governing process itself. Instead, he wants partisan differences and expedient politicians to be swept up in an irresistible wind of change. These instincts, if not Wallis's policy preferences, are shared by most Evangelicals. His religious convictions bring ends into focus, but not means. He calls for an end to poverty but not for reform of the electoral system, or a curb on executive power, or the launch of a new political party. Politics is part of the problem, never the solution. The solution can only come from the outside, from The Movement.

Wallis's impatience with politics rallies the faithful, but it cannot make for good government.

There is ample evidence of a shift among Evangelicals towards the comprehensive morality Wallis calls for. It was palpable in his audience last week. And it was evident in the recent launch of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

This shift is taking shape through the doctrine of stewardship, which has brought a fresh understanding of our obligation to care for the environment. Stewardship is just one doctrine that branches out from the root that is the biblical view of the human being, however. There are many such branches. In the Catholic tradition, one of the more vigorous obliges society to show solidarity with its weakest members; while another helps us recognize the responsibility of the family to raise children, and the state to do justice, and commerce to serve the common good. Moral crusades conflate these distinctive and irreplaceable responsibilities.

Prophets are equally irreplaceable, however. They rebuke the corruption of the powerful and call them to resume their true offices, as Nathan rebuked King David. Evangelicalism's prophetic politics does the first but overlooks the second. The omission is fatal. We will not recognize that a clean environment, responsible sexuality, and protection of society's weakest members are values that flow together rather than against one another if we remain outside the political process.

For a quarter century, Republicans and Democrats have pitted these values against one another. To reject this contradiction and take the moral synthesis into the public square, a new commitment to politics and government, perhaps even a new political organization, will be necessary. If Evangelicalism's prophetic politics were, in this fashion, to break the mold of American politics, it would at last have come of age.

-Timothy Sherratt, Political Studies, Gordon College

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02 March 2006

Monaghan's city on a hill

Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan is well known in conservative Catholic circles for having begun a Catholic university in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which he is in the process of moving to Naples, Florida. To further advance the vision of his university, he has now begun building an entire city, as indicated in this Toronto Star article: On a mission from God. Given that I teach at a similar christian university started from scratch scarcely 25 years ago, I naturally find the project of creating a Catholic university appealing. Nevertheless, I find myself wondering whether it is run by a board of governors sufficiently distant from its principal (or only?) donor. If not, then it may not have staying power over the long term.

As for the city of Ave Maria, this seems like an enterprise more typically associated with protestants, ranging from the New England Puritans to the Rev. John Alexander Dowie's Zion City on the shores of Lake Michigan north of Chicago. My hometown of Wheaton, Illinois, some 40 km west of Chicago, had some of the features of a confessionally-based city, with its prohibition of the sale of alcoholic beverages within the city limits well into my adulthood.

As for precedents on the Catholic side, Monaghan's lawyers might wish to look at the University of Notre Dame, which is its own municipality – Notre Dame, Indiana – complete with its own post office and postal code.

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